Faking the Grade: ABC7 I-Team seeks teacher bonus data

Payne Elementary PTA reports the majority of its school computers are 5 to 8 years old. (ABC7)

Teacher bonuses for obtaining high IMPACT scores mainly by passing more students could reach as high as $25,000 annually, despite questions our reports revealed about whether students earned their passing grades. The ABC7 I-Team asked District leaders how much they spent on bonuses.

“The scope of the investigation did not allow for looking into every single teacher's records, but they did not find any pattern or any broad indication that teachers received bonuses based on the policy violations,” said State Superintendent Hanseul Kang.

In an attempt to verify DCPS’ accounting, ABC7’s legal team filed a letter January 17 requesting DC Public Schools teacher bonus data. An initial November request by the ABC7 I-Team was declined with DCPS saying those records were exempt due to the presence of confidential personnel information.

This comes as the ABC7 I-Team commenced an analysis of taxpayer dollars spent on the public education system. According to the DC Budget for Fiscal Year 2018, 17.8% of the District’s budget goes to the Public Education System, which includes Public Charter Schools. That total amounts to $2.5 billion a year. (See page 63)

A video, made by the Payne Elementary Parent Teacher Association, appears humorous on the surface. It shows children frustrated they can’t type in their own names due to missing keys on broken keyboards.

"I'm infuriated. I'm frustrated and infuriated because I have a technology background and I know how important technology is to succeeding in education and in life today,” said one of the mothers who made the video, Andria Thomas.

Payne Elementary PTA reports the majority of its school computers are 5 to 8 years old.

"Students who can't type can’t do well on the PARCC. Students who don't know how to drag and drop can't do well on the standardized testing,” said State Board of Education member Joe Weedon. "DCPS has spent over the last few years, but I haven't seen clear strategy for where they've spent, how the money has been allocated, where the computers are going, what the outcomes they can expect from that spending is."

That question brings out a larger question: Which schools get more money than others? Monica Brokenborough was a music teacher at Ballou High until her position was cut last year.

"There were a lot of cuts taking place, but it wasn't happening everywhere. I saw that Ballou and Anacostia were getting these big cuts. Hart and Kramer Middle Schools were getting these big cuts. Savoy and Patterson Elementary. I was like, whoa, Ward 8 is getting a big hit," recalled Brokenborough.

After 2007, control of how taxpayer money is spent on public schools switched from the DC council to the Mayor's office. The I-Team analyzed numbers district wide and found that spending per student was roughly equal in all neighborhoods with an per pupil average for all high schools at $8,653. There were a few exceptions: Ballou and Wilson High schools spend the least per student, at $7,425 and $6,573 respectively.

When schools lost students, often to charter schools in less affluent neighborhoods, public schools lost funding. That money was difficult to replace.

"What we have seen over the last few years is that there's not enough additional resources going into some of these schools, despite the fact our budgeting provides additional dollars,” said DC Council President Phil Mendelson.

In short, the DC Council says it's providing the money, but claims DC Public Schools is not getting extra dollars to where the council intended it to go.

"The difference between the achievements between black students and white students has not changed in the past 10 years despite spending nearly a billion dollars a year," added DC Councilmember Robert White.

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